Understanding Internet Gaming Disorder
Updated: Jul 25, 2021
“IGD is based less on the number of hours dedicated to gaming, but rather the extent of compulsion to play…”
Author: Rhea Verma
There are about 2.5 billion active gamers across the globe, of which Canada alone is host to over 23 million gamers, 692 gaming companies, and a $3.6 billion industrial revenue [1-3]. Among the many types of addictions we have come to understand, videogame addiction, today commonly known as Internet Gaming Disorder (IGD), tends to be overlooked, yet has consequences which are no less detrimental [1,4].
The criteria for diagnosing someone with IGD is based less on the number of hours dedicated to gaming, but rather the extent of compulsion to play and how this affects other aspects of the person’s life .
There have been hundreds of international studies on the impact of videogames on human psychology and wellbeing. In this article, let’s break down some statistics and findings from such studies, and educate ourselves on what IGD really is.
Understanding the Extent of the Issue
The term ‘gaming disorder’ was first presented in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Disease Edition 11 (IPC-11) in May 2018 [6-8]. The IPC-11 is the international standard for identifying and reporting diseases and health conditions .
This addition was controversial, and incited great debate from the international fronts of the esports and gaming industries . Yet, the reality of the situation was far from unknown, especially in the Asian market [5,8, 9]. For example, South Korea declared IGD as a national health emergency in 2011, introducing their Cinderella Law: all videogames would automatically shut down for all children under the age of 15 after midnight . This law was specifically put in place after over 600 thousand children were diagnosed with IGD .
Over 90% of South Korean adolescents preferred videogames as their regular pastime, and there have been several public reports of malnourishment, infection, and violence among this population [9, 10]. Some news outlets even dubbed videogame entertainment as ‘electronic heroin’, and the issue has demanded urgent mental health resources and counsellors to assist in ‘digital detoxification’ programs .
With China being one of the largest gaming markets, it was a shock to the industry when the country placed six major restrictions on the act of gaming in November 2019 [5, 12]:
Gamers must register for online game accounts with your real name
Gamers can game for a maximum of 90 minutes per weekday and up to 3 hours on weekends
Gamers cannot play online games between 10pm – 9am
Gamers will have monthly spending limits on games depending on your age
The gaming industry will always monitor gaming behaviour and enforce compliance
The gaming industry and gamer’s parents will have full access to monitor played games for content
The Chinese Government justified these restrictions by blaming videogames for increased near-sightedness and decreased academic performance displayed especially among minors . It is debatable whether or not other factors played a role in those two statistics, however.
In argument, it is commonplace for many Asian countries to have large gaming/Internet cafe franchises set up which are very popular hotspots for youth to gather at . Wanyoo, Asia’s largest gaming cafe franchise serving over 30 million gamers annually, recently opened their first branch in London, UK, in October 2019 . Is this common cafe culture what drives addiction rates? More research is required before an answer can be determined.
While COVID-19 has greatly disrupted the esports sector, the gaming trend only continues to skyrocket now that gamers new and old alike have more time than ever before to indulge in the glories of new virtual worlds . The global videogame market is projected to hit the $159.3 billion mark by the end of 2020 — a 9.3% increase from 2019 figures! — where mobile games make up about 48% of that revenue .
Surprisingly, WHO substance use and addictive behaviour expert Dr. Poznyak states that an individual’s risk of developing IGD is not significantly impacted by their geographical region . This suggests that the issue may exist to the same extent even in North America, but the issue is less emphasized overall .
Original Artwork by Sara Mizannojehdehi
Understanding the Progression
According to Dr. Lal from Healthy Gamer, videogame addiction onsets in a three-step model :
Gamers play videogames for several hours have fun with it
Gamers play videogames for several hours but instead of having the original amount of fun, they play to elevate their mood
Gamers play videogames for several hours out of compulsion instead of primarily for fun and/or a better mood
When an individual starts to play videogames for the first time, the experience is fun, new, experiential, and causes the brain to release dopamine, which causes our bodies to feel pleasure . Over an extended period of time, our bodies adapt to this dopamine release and stop feeling the same level of pleasure from the act of gaming; this is referred to as building a tolerance .
This is similar to building a caffeine tolerance; you can start drinking a cup every morning right before exam week to give you a boost of energy, but eventually the taste grows on you, the habit sticks and you start drinking it regularly even if it is not for the energy boost, and on the day you don’t get your morning cup of coffee, you lead your day feeling incomplete . Another relevant example: when you watch a professional Twitch streamer say that ‘there are no fun games out’ when in reality, they have dedicated hundreds of hours to mastering a game, but simply lost the ability to feel the dopamine’s effect .
Of course, this is not an irreversible issue, and ‘digital detoxification’ has been successful to an extent, although it can be quite difficult based on the gamer’s level of progression into their addiction — a common problem among all types of addiction .
Past studies have emphasized a need for greater family involvement and support in their childrens’ lives to help them find alternative pastimes and interests . When children use videogames to escape from the real world, they are more likely to be at risk for IGD than if they had the appropriate family support and encouragement to try other things from an earlier age .
While playing videogames may not directly be a fatal act, it is possible to die as a consequence of videogame addiction . Imagine being a gamer who develops the mindset that stepping away from the screen even for a moment means you won’t achieve a high score. Imagine being a professional gamer who has a tournament coming up, who needs all the practice they can get. How would this affect your social relationships? How would this affect your mental and physical health, to be glued to a screen for hours on end? Addiction of this sort can easily lead to problems with vision, sleep deprivation, ADHD, stress, obesity, and several other consequences [10, 17].
Roh Sung-won, an addiction specialist and psychiatry professor at the Hanyang University Hospital in Seoul, makes a very noteworthy analogy: “Alcoholics don’t blame the company that makes the liquor. You don’t stop manufacturing cars because there are automobile accidents” . The same way, a lesson to take away is that the existence of IGD and its relevant consequences does not mean that videogames or their creators are an evil in this world.
Further research into the subject would be beneficial to refining the true scope of the issue, but most importantly for gamers themselves: moderation is key — even water can kill you if you drink too much too quickly .
“Alcoholics don’t blame the company that makes the liquor….The same way…the existence of IGD and its relevant consequences does not mean that videogames or their creators are an evil in this world”
Rushil Dua & Mouayad Masalkhi
Sara Mizannojehdehi & Richard Chen
Header Image by Fredrick Tendong @frdx from Unsplash
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